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CANNES, France (Reuters) - Michael Fassbender is a "Macbeth" for our times, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, while Marion Cotillard is a Lady Macbeth haunted by the loss of a child, in the final competition entry screened on Saturday for the top Cannes prize.
The main Palme d'Or prize for the 68th edition of the film festival will be awarded on Sunday night.
Most critics appear to think Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien's "Nie Yinniang" (The Assassin), about a martial arts killer, is the most deserving.
It is followed closely by Hungarian director Laszlo Nemes's "Saul Fia" (Son of Saul) set in the Auschwitz concentration camp and American director Todd Haynes's lesbian romance "Carol" starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara.
The screen credits for "Macbeth" directed by Australian Justin Kurzel ("Snowtown") give fair warning that it is "based on the play by William Shakespeare".
Unlike some previous movie adaptations of one of Shakespeare's darkest plays, this unfurls a bit like a study guide version with the lines ("Out, damned spot", "screw your courage to the sticking point") retained but much dialogue cut.
What Kurzel has opted for is to open up the play as a psychodrama about the romantic relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth that is spiraling towards disaster because of the psychological trauma each has endured.
Fassbender said Kurzel had suggested in an early conversation about the film that Macbeth, shown in the midst of battle in the opening scene, has nightmares and visions of witches because of his battle scars, physical and mental.
"The idea that he's seeing hallucinations, we know from soldiers today coming back from Iraq or Afghanistan that describe traumatic stress disorder," Fassbender told a news conference.
"The fact that they have these hallucinations, the fact that they can be walking down the Croisette here (in Cannes) and next thing it's Basra - real time, Basra - so that made so much sense from the beginning with the character, the fact that he's seeing the witches - are they there? are they not? - and his sort of unhinged behaviour."
Kurzel said he also wanted to show the impact of the stark, rainy and cold Scottish winter landscape on the protagonists.
"I think it's kind of like a western, I think it was kind of integral to the way we make film," Kurzel said.
Cotillard, one of France's top actors, said it had been a challenge for her to get inside the character of Lady Macbeth.
"It's difficult for me because firstly the language is English with a particular accent and I was always afraid of not managing to pay tribute to a given text, particularly when you're talking about Shakespeare, so that for me was perhaps what intimidated me most," she said.
There was a lighter moment when a reporter asked what the best and worst things were about working in Scotland.
"Whisky and whisky," Fassbender said.
(This version of the story changes dateline to Cannes from London).
Writing by Michael Roddy; Editing by Janet Lawrence